For the first time in 12 years, Marshall has finished the season with a national ranking.

The Thundering Herd checked in at No. 23 in the final Associated Press Top 25, released early Tuesday morning. Marshall is also in the last coaches poll rankings at No. 22.

The last time Marshall appeared in the final rankings was after the 2002 season, when quarterback Byron Leftwich led the team to victory over Louisville for its second straight GMAC Bowl win.

The 2014 season will be remembered as Marshall’s ascension back into the national eye. Led by another Heisman Trophy quarterback in Rakeem Cato, the Herd had one of the most explosive offenses in the country, finishing second in total offense at 559.2 yards per game and third in scoring offense at 45.2 points per game.

The Herd finished 13-1 and was ranked in the top 25 for seven weeks until a 67-66 overtime loss to Western Kentucky on Black Friday.

Still, Marshall bounced back and defeated Louisiana Tech 26-23 for its first Conference USA championship in its 10th season as a member.

The reward was a date with Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl. Other than the College Football Playoffs, it was the only bowl game pitting conference champions.

Marshall trailed the Huskies 7-0 briefly, but went on to win 52-23. Cato, who will play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl this Saturday in Los Angeles, went out in style with three touchdown passes and two more on the ground. He finished his career with a touchdown pass in a college football record 46 straight games.

— E-mail: gfauber

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